Fungus Among Us!
Cosmic Web,
Ghost Ship and
Dinosaur Nostrils
!
There's A Fungus Among Us - A Very Old Fungus!

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON August 10, 2001  (AP) — Fungi and early plants may have colonized land millions of years earlier than previously thought, according to scientists who say this could have had a major impact on climate and life on Earth.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University estimate that fungi first appeared on land about 1.3 billion years ago, followed by early plants about 700 million years ago.

"We were actually quite shocked. We had no idea that fungi were quite so old,'' said S. Blair Hedges, who led the research team that conducted the new study.

"That really caused us to look closely at land plants, and after finding land plants were so old, that took us to another question, which was: How could the presence of these land plants have affected land and climate?'' he said in a telephone interview.

The team's findings are published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The group studied the rate of mutations in a number of plant and fungi genes. With that, they were able to calculate back in time and estimate the point when the species separated and primitive algae colonized the then barren land.

Previous estimates based on fossils have indicated that plants and fungi appeared on land between 480 million and 460 million years ago.

The new dates led the researchers to speculate that the presence of plants, taking up carbon dioxide from the early atmosphere and adding oxygen to it, could have cooled the climate and had an impact on the further development of life, including the proliferation of animals, which need oxygen.

The cooling in particular, he said, may have been involved in a series of "snowball earth'' episodes in which the planet was covered with ice between 750 million and 580 million years ago. That was followed by the Cambrian explosion of animal life, which could have been aided by the rising oxygen levels.

"We are proposing a biological explanation for these two seemingly unrelated phenomena, which before had geological explanations such as plate tectonics,'' he said.

"Both the lowering of the Earth's surface temperature and the evolution of many new types of animals could result from a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide and a rise in oxygen caused by the presence on land of lichen fungi and plants at this time, which our research suggests,'' said Hedges, an evolutionary biologist.

Linda Graham, a professor of botany at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said she was surprised at the early date the team calculated for land plants.

"It's a very exciting finding,'' she said. "But I don't think they're entirely unreasonable, and it will stimulate a lot of new work in looking for fossils in older sediments.''

Their remains might be hard to locate, though, because the population may have been very small, she said.

As to the potential effect on climate, she called it "a reasonable speculation that just requires a great deal more work.''

Bette Otto-Bliesner, a paleoclimatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said that she wouldn't go so far as to speculate that the plant-related reduction in carbon dioxide could cause a "snowball earth,'' but added that the general argument is plausible from a climate perspective.

"We know that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a powerful driver of climate ... and we know that land plants can accelerate weathering and draw down carbon dioxide,'' she said.

But "there are still some substantial gaps in our understanding of the details of how atmospheric carbon dioxide regulates climate when we go to the distant past. The landmasses were shifted in their locations, geography was quite different,'' she said.

Town Rains Corn - Baffles Weather Experts
WICHITA August 8, 2001 (Reuters) - Townspeople and weather experts were scratching their heads in puzzlement after large quantities of corn husks fell from the skies on Wichita, Kansas, over the weekend.

According to news reports, thousands of foot-long (30-cm-long) and larger leaves from corn stalks fell like rain across the eastern edge of this south-central Kansas city on Saturday and Sunday.

"It was a pretty large area where people reported it," said Weather Data Inc. meteorologist Chad Pettera. "I think it is very odd."

Pettera said that in cases of high winds, tornadoes, thunderstorms and other extreme weather events it was not unusual for objects to fall from the sky after getting blown long distances.

But there has been no unusual weather to explain the falling corn husks, he said.

"In our area there has been no weather to speak of, no high winds. It's just been very hot and dry" he said.

Some speculated that an airplane may somehow have been responsible, but there is no evidence to back up the theory.

"There weren't strong winds. I don't see how they could have gotten blown up in the air," National Weather Service meteorological technician Holly Kreutzer told a local newspaper.

Kansas is known as the largest wheat producing state in the United States, but also grows a significant amount of corn each summer.
Bush Stem Cell Decision Compromise Sure To Disappoint All

By Susan Baer and Ellen Gamerman
Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON August 10, 2001 (Baltimore Sun) - In reaching for a middle ground in his decision to allow federal funding for only existing embryonic stem cell lines, President Bush left many on both sides of the issue dissatisfied, others mildly heartened and some simply confused.

Those who support research on stem cells derived from embryos, such as the research community and patients' advocates, say they are relieved that Bush did not ban federal funding completely but not pleased with the limits. They say those limits could slow research into potential cures for many debilitating diseases.

"He made a step in the right direction, but it turned out to be a step too short," said Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research. "He put science into a bit of a tight-fitting lab coat to do this research. One has to say, 'Why?' "

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican who favors broader embryonic stem cell research, said the compromise position was not likely to appease either side of the issue.

"You're going to find people on both sides are not totally happy," Morella said. "To restrict it to the ... existing stem cell lines does not give researchers the opportunity for the genetic diversity that could really help with further research in these debilitating diseases."

Those who have opposed embryonic stem cell research, notably religious conservatives who say such research is tantamount to murder, seemed divided in their reaction. Many of them point out that an embryo must be destroyed in order to harvest the stem cells.

Members of Congress who had urged Bush to oppose the research - and instead restrict funding to research on adult stem cells - were tempered in their reactions. They said they were heartened by the president's apparent soul-searching on the matter, but still concerned that he may have opened the door to future destruction of embryos for research.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and critic of the embryonic stem cell research, praised Bush for treating human embryos as "people" instead of "property." But, Brownback said, "We should substantially increase the funding for adult stem cell research rather than research on young humans - a practice which is opposed by millions of American taxpayers."

Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, with two other House GOP leaders, had written a stern letter to Bush recently warning him against funding an "industry of death." He said last night that he was confident Bush made the decision from "his heart." But, DeLay added, "I'm worried that this initial research may ultimately serve as a pretext for vastly expanded research that does require the destruction of new living embryos."

'Moral line' Crossed

Catholic leaders, many of whom have been vehement in their opposition to federal funding, were more caustic in their response.

"The president has crossed an important moral line to make a policy that is probably unworkable," said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

Doerflinger said Bush was looking for a compromise position.

"I don't think he found it," he said. "He found something that still has the moral problems and is going to be attacked on scientific grounds as well."

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: "The federal government, for the first time in history, will support research that relies on the destruction of some defenseless human beings. However such a decision is hedged about with qualifications, it allows our nation's research enterprise to cultivate a disrespect for human life."

But some in the anti-abortion community applauded Bush's decision. Conservative religious leader James Dobson said he and his followers had been praying for a decision that would not involve the destruction of more embryos.

"From our perspective, he didn't call for federal funds to be expended to take human life, to kill those little embryos," he said. "He implied that life begins at conception. ... I think we can live with that."

Burke Balch, an official with the National Right to Life Committee, said he was delighted that Bush's position "prevents the federal government from becoming a party to any further killing of human embryos for medical experimentation."

Many congressional Democrats praised Bush for embracing the concept of embryonic stem cell research, but ultimately derided his decision as too restrictive - and politically motivated.

Said Sen. John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat: "Compassionate conservatism could have meant lifesaving treatments for those suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease; instead, it appears to be using words of compassion to mask efforts to keep a campaign promise to conservatives."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said that limiting research to only existing stem cell lines "could be inadequate to realize its potential lifesaving benefits."

He hinted that Congress would take up legislation to allow for greater latitude in funding embryonic stem cell research. Such legislation could have widespread support, because many Republicans - even conservative lawmakers who oppose abortion rights, such as Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch - favor federal funding of the research. And a recent CNN/USA Today/ Gallup poll shows that 55 percent of the American public supports federal funding for it.

Some bioethicists said Bush's decision appeared disingenuous.

"Basically it's a ban in sheep's clothing," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "You have a tiny amount of research that's possible, but it really isn't going to be very much in terms of pushing the research in any significant way."

Human Cloning Test Underway

WASHINGTON August 8, 2001 (AP) - The head of a Bahamas biotech firm, hinting that human cloning experiments were underway in her lab, defended what she said was a human right to reproduce using one's own genes.

''We should not be the cause of public fears,'' Brigitte Boisselier told a committee of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday. ''I am doing it in a very responsible manner.''

Boisselier, a research scientist and director of a company called Clonaid, said reports of serious congenital defects and fetal death among cloned livestock have not swayed her determination to attempt to clone humans.

Her comments came during a hearing designed to allow academy committee members to gather information for a report on human cloning expected to be released next month. The academy is a private, nonprofit organization of distinguished scientists and engineers. It is chartered by Congress and often does research at the request of government agencies.

Boisselier declined to confirm or deny that her company had cloned human embryos, but she told the committee her lab was able to identify cells that can be safely cloned and that she was ''comfortable with those results.''

''I am doing it and hope I can publish that soon and show it to you,'' she told the committee of experts.

She dismissed ethical concerns about reproductive human cloning, calling it ''the arrogance of telling people what they should do with their own genes.''

''We should be able to use our genes the way we want,'' said Boisselier. ''It is your right to reproduce yourself using your genes.''

Boisselier also told the committee that there is no need to refine the cloning technique with further animal research.

''I believe we have enough information to proceed with human cloning,'' she said. ''I don't believe working with animal cloning will give us much more information.''

Two other researchers, Panayiotis Michael Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute in Lexington, Ky., and Dr. Severino Antinori of the University of Rome, said they were continuing with human cloning research as a means of allowing infertile men to have children. However, they said they had not yet attempted to clone a human being.

The comments came during a day of angry exchanges between people on both sides of the cloning issue. While scientists gave testimony in the auditorium, people on opposing sides met in the stately lobby of the National Academy's building, and, under the glare of television lights, shouted at each other. One side contended cloning was a human reproductive right, while the other said it would be an unethical, perhaps dangerous form of human experimentation. Animal researchers warned the committee that cloning produces a high level of failures, with many animals dying before birth and others born with abnormalities.

Asked if these problems might be corrected in human cloning experiments, Alan Colman, director of PPL Therapeutics, made clear his opposition to such research.

''Practice makes perfect, but it is unethical to practice on humans,'' said Colman, whose Scottish lab cloned Dolly, the famous sheep.

He said that attempting human cloning would result in miscarriages, deaths and abnormal births. ''I don't see that it is ethical to take on that practice, now or forever.''

Zavos and Antinori told the panel that they want to clone humans because some 70 million males worldwide are physically unable to produce children in any other way.

''We want to make this available only to people who have exhausted all other possibilities for reproduction,'' said Zavos.

But Boisselier said she believed cloning was a human right. She said many infertile couples yearn to be able to reproduce using cloning.

''There is a huge demand,'' said Boisselier. ''A lot of people would like to have a baby using this technology.''

In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo and implanted in the womb of the mother. The offspring would have only the genes from the adult cell. The result would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.

Wax Museum to Immortalize Karloff and Lugosi Monsters

NEW YORK August 9, 2001 (Reuters) - Vincent Price may have starred in the horror classic "House of Wax," but it is Boris Karloff's Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi's Dracula who will be immortalized at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

With offspring of the two horror movie veterans on hand, the wax museum on Wednesday announced it would feature its first-ever wax figures of celebrities in costume and character makeup. The figures are set to be unveiled at the museum on Halloween.

"I bid you welcome," said Bela Lugosi Jr., seemingly channeling his late father's persona as the vampire in the 1931 film "Dracula," directed by Tod Browning.

"Dracula, like the image of Bela Lugosi, never dies," Lugosi said. "Very few actors actually become icons and I think Bela Lugosi has become one," he told Reuters Television.

"He's much more recognized today I think than even when he was alive ... He never thought that he would be remembered," Lugosi said. "And so it means a lot to me that he's being remembered now."

The wax museum worked closely with Karloff and Lugosi family members on the figures, which are being crafted at its London branch.

Karloff's character from "The Mummy" is also being created, and all three will debut at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Florida ahead of an Oct. 31 unveiling at Madame Tussaud's in Times Square.

"It's a remarkable tribute and our family is just thrilled beyond belief," said daughter Sara Karloff. "It's just uncanny the way they've captured their likenesses ... . Although he's in makeup I can see his persona coming through."

Many critics cite "Frankenstein," directed by James Whale, as the best horror movie ever made. Browning's "Dracula" is lauded as among the best examples in which gothic and supernatural elements meld into an eerie tale of the "undead."

Both films are from Universal Studios, which joined forces with the museum on the renderings, and are marking their 70th anniversary.

Tussaud's officials said a figure of Lon Chaney, star of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of the Opera," was in the works. But there was no mention of horror veteran Price, who plays a demented wax museum director in "House of Wax."

Another plug: www.darkHollywood.com

Man Drowns in Niagara River After Saving Wife
By Adam Segal
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Niagara Falls August 10, 2001 (Toronto Star) - A man's frantic efforts to rescue his wife from the Niagara River had a bittersweet ending yesterday after he saved her but lost his own life in the process.

Police say the man's wife, who doesn't know how to swim, went into the river near Niagara Blvd. and Princess St. in Niagara Falls after noticing the couple's two 8-year-old children were struggling in the swift current around 6:15 p.m.

The wife managed to push the children to safety toward another woman, but she then found herself battling to stay afloat. The husband, also a non-swimmer, reached for his wife and pulled her to safety but then fell into deep water, police said.

The same woman who helped rescue the children then tried to pull the man ashore, but he panicked and pulled her underwater, ripping her clothes, police said.

The woman continued her bid to save the man, but she had to resurface for air. She dove beneath one more time, but couldn't find the man.

Police and firefighters searched for the man and a diver found him about an hour and 20 minutes later. The man was pronounced dead after paramedics tried to resuscitate him.

Police have not released the man's name but said he was a 46-year-old native of Buffalo.
Unions Criticize Bush Labor Plan

By LEIGH STROPE
AP Labor Writer

WASHINGTON August 10, 2001 (AP) — Organized labor is pressing for legalization of millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States, criticizing a temporary work program the Bush administration is considering.

"It's a nonstarter and we have said as much to the United States Congress and the Mexican government,'' said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union. "Our first and second priority is making sure everyone here now is legalized.''

Union leaders' comments came as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft spent two hours Thursday talking with Mexican officials on issues including immigration. The event was partly aimed at laying the groundwork for next month's meeting between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, when a plan could be announced.

"We want to make sure that we have a humane approach to the solution of the migration challenge,'' Powell told reporters at the State Department.

Whatever reforms are instituted, Powell said, must respect "the enormously valuable role that Mexican immigrants continue to play in helping us in building our nation.''

At the same time, he said the administration wants to ensure that the reforms do not disadvantage American workers.

Bush is weighing task force recommendations to grant guest-worker status and eventually legal residency to some of the 3 million Mexicans in this country illegally. Bush has said he also would consider extending the proposal to people from other countries. About 7 million illegal aliens live in the United States.

The political attention stems from new Census figures showing that the Hispanic population grew 58 percent during the 1990s to 35 million. Hispanics now rival non-Hispanic blacks as the nation's largest minority group.

Bush, who drew 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, sees potential new voters in such a decision, while organized labor sees a solution to declining membership rolls.

Organized labor is talking with business organizations, immigrants rights groups and the Catholic church to lobby for changes to the immigration law.

Some leaders of the unions and immigration groups are traveling to Central America next week to meet with government officials in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador on the issue. Union officials already have met with Mexican officials, including Fox.

The unions also are talking with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, associations representing the hotel and restaurant industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to find ways to work together on immigration.

"We've opened up discussions to see where we can find common ground,'' said Theresa Brown, the chamber's director of labor and immigration policy.

The union coalition, which also includes the Laborers International Union and United Farm Workers, is organizing events in 26 cities later this month to build grass-roots support. They are also planning sermons on immigration issues at Catholic and Protestant churches across the country on the Sunday before Labor Day.

The AFL-CIO, eager to reverse declining union membership, last year abandoned its stance that immigrants were a threat to American jobs and started reaching out to them.

"We're here. We're not taking away jobs,'' said Yanira Merino, who emigrated from El Salvador and now is a Laborers' union organizer. "We're doing what a lot of people don't want to do.''

The labor federation renewed its commitment last week at an executive council meeting in Chicago, issuing principles to guide national immigration policy debate:

—Undocumented workers and their families should be granted permanent legal status.

—Immigrant workers should have full workplace rights, including the right to organize a union and whistle-blower protections.

—Guest-worker programs should not be expanded because they tend to depress wages for all workers.

—New immigration laws and stepped-up enforcement are needed to punish employers that hire undocumented workers.

Dead Eagles and Billions Missing
DENVER August 10, 2001 (Raptor Education Foundation) - Could it be that the federal government is tossing bones, or dead eagles in this case, to American Indians because the feds have severely mismanaged American Indian Trust Funds? Are the feds simply trying to appease American Indians in any way they can because they may owe billions of dollars to various tribes?

Former Secretary of the Interior under Clinton, Bruce Babbitt and his minions, were the ones responsible for closing their eyes to the illegal taking of eagles from various sources, and Babbit may soon be facing another contempt of court charge for providing U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth information that was “at best misleading and at worst false” about a computer system designed to monitor funds paid into various Indian trusts managed by Interior while Babbit was in charge. This time, however, Babbit’s penalties will have to be paid by him and not the taxpayer as happened in his first contempt-of-court citation before the same judge.

In the 19th century, Congress set up a series of trust funds to handle banking needs on Indian reservations. These trusts now handle approximately $500 million per year and represent revenues to various tribes from land sales, rents, grazing rights, and other activities. Since the mid-1990’s, Congress has spent $614 million to improve an accounting system that has been incompetently managed for decades. With sloppy accounting and missing records, the Interior Department has no idea what they owe American Indians, yet they claim the losses are minimal. Just like their decisions made permitting eagle slaughter during religious rituals to continue without knowing how many eagles are actually surviving in the areas concerned. But hey, what are a few dead eagles if it keeps Indians distracted.

In an earlier trial, Judge Lamberth found that the American government had breached its trust duty in managing Indian accounts. This has been going on for decades. So if we can trust the Interior Department to be incompetent in handling simple bureaucratic things like numbers and records, we can certainly be assured they have applied the same expertise in managing billions of living creatures and systems that represent America’s patrimony.

If this is not an argument for privatizing much of Interior’s functions then we may as well let Interior continue to expand its feudal enterprise and use America’s natural resources to reward and appease the princes of various oil and mining kingdoms, the chiefs of the Indian archipelago, and the lords of numerous special interest groups who want equal access to our national parks and monuments.

Let’s just open the American Commons to the commoners, and in twenty years we will have our just reward.

Raptor Education Foundation Web site: http://www.usaref.org
Russians Won't Prosecute Programmer

By ANNA DOLGOV
Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW August 9, 2001 (AP) — A Russian computer programmer accused of circumventing U.S. copyright protections on electronic-book software will not be prosecuted at home if U.S. authorities allow him to return, police said Thursday.

Dmitry Sklyarov, 26, is in Northern California awaiting trial, and could face five years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted of violating the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He was released on $50,000 bail Monday after being arrested July 16 at a Las Vegas convention.

The case concerns Adobe Systems' eBook Reader, software that lets publishers impose strong restrictions on the use of books they sell online. While working for Elcomsoft Co. Ltd. of Moscow, Sklyarov came up with ways around those restrictions — allowing, for example, electronic books to be transferred from one computer to another or to be used in text-to-speech programs.

Such programs are legal in Russia but banned in the United States under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe complained to the FBI, and agents arrested Sklyarov in Las Vegas after he spoke at a computer security convention.

"If this case was being reviewed in Russia, we would have nothing against Dmitry Sklyarov,'' said Dmitry Chepchugov, head of the Russian Interior Ministry's department for high technology crimes.

Chepchugov also denied reports that Interior Ministry investigators had searched Sklyarov's Moscow apartment. Elcomsoft director Vladimir Katalov has also denied any such search.

Sklyarov's supporters say there is no evidence anyone has used his program to violate copyrights on electronic books, and say he should be allowed to return to Moscow to his wife and two children. Adobe dropped its support of the case July 23.

If he does return home, Russian authorities will not file any charges against him, Chepchugov said. "There is no case for us in Russia.''

———

On the Net:

Sklyarov supporters: http://freesklyarov.org

Prosecutors: http://www.usaondca.com

Cosmic Helium Web Gave Birth to Galaxies


By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON August 8, 2001 (Reuters) - First there was the blast, then cosmic murk followed by a return to light and clarity, and now scientists have detected traces of a ghostly gas web that eventually became galaxies, stars, planets and people.

"This is really the reservoir, the pool of material that serves to feed the growth of galaxies throughout the rest of the life of the universe,'' astronomer Gerard Kriss said on Thursday. Research by Kriss and his colleagues was published in the current edition of the journal Science.

This latest discovery continues a remarkable week for research into the workings of the early universe. Building on the theoretical Big Bang, the monstrous explosion that most astronomers believe gave birth to the universe, scientists have recently solidified ideas about what happened soon afterwards.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a group of scientists aiming to map one-quarter of the sky and determine how bright and how far some 100 celestial objects are, offered research five days ago about a dark age that started some 300,000 years after the Big Bang.

Then researchers at the California Institute of Technology reported on what they called a cosmic renaissance that brought the return of light -- from super-bright quasars and galaxies -- after the time of darkness. This period ended around 1 billion years after the Big Bang, the researchers reported.

And now astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, including Kriss, have looked at the time after this renaissance, when the universe was about 3 billion to 4 billion years old.

RE-CHARGED BY QUASARS

They looked at helium, one of the two elements -- along with hydrogen -- present in abundance soon after the universe was created. At that time, about 14 billion years ago, these elements were in the form of ionized gas. An atom gets ionized when one or more of its electrons is removed or added, giving it a positive or negative charge.

After about 300,000 years or so, the hydrogen atomic nuclei and their electrons recombined, making the universe a neutral, dark and opaque place. Only when quasars and early galaxies switched on, around half a billion years later, did their light blast hydrogen out of its neutral, murky state and back into an ionized condition that made the universe transparent again.

But neutral helium was not so easily budged, Kriss and his colleagues reported. Mere starlight could not reionize it; it required the brilliance and energy of quasars, which can shine with the energy of 10 trillion suns, to re-charge it.

That happened about 3 billion to 4 billion years after the Big Bang, when the quasar population was peaking, Kriss said in a telephone interview. There were more luminous quasars, which are believed to be powered by black holes, than at any time before or since.

The reionized helium stretched across the universe, but not uniformly. It was thicker in some places and thinner elsewhere, and the thick places had more gravity than the thin ones, and ultimately were able to gather in more material. They eventually became galaxies, stars, planets and everything these structures contain, including humans.

To reach this conclusion, the astronomers studied a distant quasar -- some 10 billion light-years away -- in the constellation Phoenix, visible in Earth's southern hemisphere. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles.

They used NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer satellite and the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

FBI + CIA - Q for Third Gizmo Chief in Three Years

WASHINGTON August 5, 2001 (Reuters) - The CIA has hired a G-man as its new Q -- the master of spy gadgetry of James Bond adventure fame.

Donald Kerr, as the agency's new deputy director for science and technology, will oversee the department that develops spy gizmos, tools and technologies.

That department in past decades developed the U-2 spy plane, created such tools as cameras hidden in the fabric of handbags and hollowed out everyday items to hide secret documents or film.

Kerr, 62, an assistant director of the FBI -- whose agents were once called G-men, for "government men'' -- leaves that problem-plagued law-enforcement agency to join its one-time archrival.

Relations between the FBI and the CIA have improved markedly in recent years as employees from the two agencies have cooperated on counterterrorist and other security projects.

The upswing was bolstered by a strong relationship between former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who left in June, and CIA Director George Tenet.

Freeh hired Kerr in October 1997 to take charge of the FBI's crime laboratory, harshly criticized earlier that year for shoddy work.

From 1979 to 1985, Kerr, a physicist, directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which designs nuclear weapons.

Kerr will "add new chapters to CIA's long history of technical research (and) creativity,'' Tenet said in a statement. Kerr could not be reached immediately for comment.

The CIA has had a new deputy director for science and technology each year for the past three years. Kerr replaces Joanne Isham, who moves to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency as deputy director.

She replaces John Helgerson, who will chair the National Intelligence Council -- essentially the government's think tank on intelligence issues, producing mostly classified reports on areas such as military strength and weapons proliferation in various world regions.

Stolen Sea Turtle Eggs Hatch in Ohio
SARASOTA, Fla. August 8, 2001 (AP) — A tourist from Ohio took 27 sea turtle eggs from a storm-swept Florida beach, then called a zoo for help when they hatched unexpectedly.

Martha Bowling, a former science teacher, told officials at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium that storms unearthed the eggs near Fort Lauderdale about three weeks ago.

Bowling, 55, said she knew sea turtles are threatened and that federal laws prohibit touching them but she figured the eggs were not viable.

"By the time I got them home and opened up the first one and it died, I knew what an error it was. I felt awful,'' she told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Wednesday's editions.

Bowling had left the eggs in a plastic bag in a sand and water mixture. Days later, as they hatched, four sea turtles died. Zoo workers were feeding the 23 survivors with bits of shrimp and scallions. If the hatchlings do well, they will be returned to a Florida beach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating. The federal penalty for interfering with even one egg is a year in jail and $100,000 fine.
Famous Ghost Ship Found

August 9, 2001 (BBC) - An expedition has discovered the final resting place of the ship at the heart of one of the world's most puzzling and enduring mysteries, the Mary Celeste. A group headed by the author Clive Cussler and film producer John Davis said it had discovered the ghost ship's remains lying on the Rochelais reef, off the coast of Haiti.

The ship was found sailing off the Azores in 1872 with no-one aboard. The captain, his wife and two-year-old daughter were inexplicably missing.

The team are expected to announce further details of their discovery and display artefacts recovered from the wreck by divers on Thursday. The wooden vessel is almost completely covered by coral, which made tracking it down all the more difficult.

"After her eerie abandonment, the ship sailed under different owners for 12 years, until her last captain loaded her with a cargo of cheap rubber boots and cat food before deliberately sinking her," Mr Davis said.

Insurance Fraud

Mr Davis said the captain had tried to scuttle the ship by running her into the Rochelais reef off the coast of Haiti, but failed when the ship grounded on the coral and refused to sink.

The skipper then attempted to file "an exorbitant insurance claim for an exotic cargo that never existed," Mr Davis said.

After insurance inspectors investigated and discovered the ship's actual cargo, the captain and his first mate were convicted on charges of what was then known as "barratry".

Dr Cussler said the fate of the original crew of the Mary Celeste looks likely to remain a mystery.

The best-selling author has helped to lead expeditions which have located nearly 70 historic shipwrecks, including the US Confederate submarine Hunley and the Carpathia, the ship that rescued survivors from the Titanic.

Chequered History

The Mary Celeste was built in Nova Scotia in 1860 and originally named the Amazon. She was 103ft (31.3 metres) long, displaced 280 tons and registered as a half-brig.

Over the next decade she was involved in a series of accidents and mishaps at sea, and had a number of owners.

Eventually she was bought, refitted and re-registered in America. Her new captain was Benjamin Briggs, aged 37, a master with three previous commands.

On 7 November 1872 the ship sailed from New York with Captain Briggs, his wife, young daughter and a crew of eight on board bound for Genoa in Italy, with a cargo of raw alcohol.

None of the people on board were ever seen again.

A little over a month after she left port the deserted ship was discovered drifting off the Azores by the British cargo ship Dei Gratia, and towed to Gibraltar.

There, a British board of inquiry ruled out piracy or foul play due to the lack of signs of any violence, but investigators were unable to determine what had happened to the people on board.

The mystery did not come to the public's attention until 1884 when Arthur Conan Doyle writing under a pseudonym published a story about a derelict ship called the "Marie Celeste".

His account retold the factual events of the Mary Celeste, but added fictional and provocative detail to enhance the mystery and appeal capture the public's imagination.

Since then and to this day however, no two accounts of the story are the same.

Explanations for the mystery have ranged from a mutiny, piracy or insurance fraud, to underwater seismic disturbances and even alien abduction.

Many people believe the crew perished after taking to a lifeboat fearing the ship's cargo may have been about to explode.

Blue Whale Sightings in California

By EMILY VIZZO
Scripps Howard News Service

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (August 8, 2001 4:44 p.m. EDT) - More than 100 blue whales - the biggest creatures ever to inhabit the Earth, bigger than dinosaurs ever were, with tongues weighing as much as an elephant and hearts the size of a VW Beetle - are delighting whale-watchers as they dine in the krill-filled waters just off San Miguel Island.

Sometime during the last week of July, between 100 and 200 blue whales congregated off the point, around the back side of wind-blasted San Miguel island, the westernmost of the five islands comprising Channel Islands National Park.

"It isn't all that unusual, but for this year it's been unusual," said Fred Benko, owner of the Condor, a Santa Barbara-based whale-watching vessel. "We will often get 100 animals at a time, or even more than that, but this year we haven't had that happen."

This year's summer whale-watching season has been a good one. Lower sea temperatures have favored the floating red masses of tiny krill that whales feast on, enticing the massive mammals to hang around.

The blues first appeared consistently in local waters in 1991. Their relatively recent presence in the channel might be an indication of abundant krill, a dearth of food elsewhere or an increased whale population.

After Condor captain Ron Hart noticed the blues appearing regularly and in large numbers, the Condor's blue whale watching trips were born - and the response has been enormous.

"We were getting calls from Japan," Hart said. "People calling and saying, 'Are they still there?'"

Not only are the whales still here, but Hart estimates that locally their numbers are increasing at 8 percent a year. "This is by far the largest, healthiest population anywhere in the world," he said.

Blue whales can reach 100 feet in length and weigh up to 180 metric tons. They feed primarily on krill - tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. The krill are plentiful this season, partly because of lower ocean temperatures, which they prefer; and partly due to nutrient-rich currents which have created an abundance of microscopic phytoplankton for the krill to feed on.

The blues probably congregated at San Miguel because of a heavy krill concentration there.

Meanwhile, boats like the 88-foot Condor patrol the islands daily, laden with camera-toting whale-watchers happily staggering around the decks. When they're not admiring the hundreds of dolphins surfing the wake and launching perfect arcs, they scan the horizon with binoculars for the tell-tale puff of a whale's spout.

"When they're feeding, from a distance it looks a bit like a water fountain," Hart said.

"You see a bunch of misty blows. Then, when they come up to the surface, it's like a train going by under water."

Although they are frequently spotted in the channel and around the islands, blue whales aren't making as snappy a comeback from pre-exploitation numbers as they should be, according to ranger Bill Faulkner at the Channel Islands National Park visitor center in the Ventura Harbor.

When animals such as the blue whales are recovering from a period of exploitation, Faulkner explained, their numbers are expected to increase at a certain rate - particularly when their habitat is intact, as is the case with the Channel Islands.

"We're not seeing that increase worldwide," Faulkner said.

Faulkner said he worries that the moratorium on whale hunting established by the International Whaling Commission 15 years ago is crumbling. Norway and Japan, countries where whale-hunting occurs, weaken the agreement, he says.

"It took a concerted effort to save these animals," Faulkner said. "We're going out on these trips and enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor, so to speak. We need to keep the effort going."

Christie's To Auction Fiery Lennon Letter to McCartneys

By CHRIS FONTAINE
Associated Press

LONDON August 7, 2001 (AP) - An expletive-filled, handwritten letter John Lennon wrote to Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, after the Beatles' 1970 breakup is to be sold at auction.

The six-page draft - expected to fetch up to $112,000 when it goes under the hammer at Christie's on Oct. 4 - captures the bitterness between Lennon and the McCartneys during and immediately after the Fab Four's demise, and Lennon's anger at the treatment of Yoko Ono.

"I hope you realize what (expletive) you and the rest of my kind and unselfish friends laid on Yoko & me since we have been together - It might have sometimes been a bit more subtle or should I say `middle class' - but not often," Lennon wrote, according to excerpts released by Christie's.

The undated letter has been put up for auction by an undisclosed seller. It was apparently written in the aftermath of the band's April 1970 breakup. It also appears to be a response to a letter sent to Lennon by Linda McCartney in which she apparently castigated him for remarks he made to the press about Paul and the other Beatles, the auction house said.

"Obviously if they keep asking Beatle questions - I'll answer them," Lennon wrote. "I know some of it gets personal - but whether you believe it or not - I try and answer straight ... I don't resent your husband - I'm sorry for him."

It is unclear if a final version of the letter was ever sent to the McCartneys, according to Christie's. One Beatles historian called it a snapshot of a period when the business side of the band was in chaos, exacerbating the tensions that caused the breakup.

The letter, which historians have written about, also provides a first-person account of Lennon's decision to leave the Beatles. Disgusted by their mega-band status and feeling trapped by fame, Lennon wrote that he told Paul McCartney he was quitting, which was met with pleas to "just let it (peter) out" and to "keep quiet about" the breakup.

"I'm not ashamed of the Beatles, but some of the (expletive) we took to make them so big," he wrote. "Do you really believe that most of today's art came about because of the Beatles? - I don't believe you're that insane Paul - do you believe that? ... Didn't we always say we were part of the movement - not all of it? Of course we changed the world - but try and follow through - get off your gold disc and fly!"

Lennon was shot and killed more than 20 years ago in New York City. The three other ex-Beatles - McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison - survive.

Lost Signpost Lost
LONDON August 7, 2001 (Reuters) - Lost -- a tiny village in Scotland, called Lost.

Well not quite.

But residents in the village of Lost in Aberdeenshire are appealing for Lost to be found. The signpost for their village has gone missing.

"Lost is a tiny village and it's quite difficult to find at the best of times," Beverly Tricker, a spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire tourist board, told Reuters. "Now that someone has taken the signpost, people are getting even more lost.

"We are appealing for Lost to be found and for the signpost to be returned."
Dinosaur Nostrils Revisited

By Revati Prasad
Ohio University Post

ATHENS Ohio August 9, 2001 (U-WIRE) - After five years of study, Lawrence M. Witmer, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy in the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, concluded that the nostrils of dinosaurs were at the ends of their long snouts.

Previously, scientists believed the nostrils were nearer the tops of the dinosaurs' heads because the soft tissue of the nostril could not be fossilized, Witmer said.

But dinosaur fossils show extremely large nasal passages in their skulls.

After studying the noses of a number of close relatives of the dinosaurs such as the crocodile, and other modern animals, including horses, Witmer said he realized the nostril is placed at the end of the snout in most animals and was in the dinosaur as well.

Because of this, Witmer said, the dinosaur nose fulfilled many important physiological functions, though these are still under study. The nose in a dinosaur probably conditioned the air it inhaled and filtered out particle matter, as well as helping in water conservation and thermal regulation, he said.

Witmer's findings about the position of the nostrils were published in the journal "Science" last Friday.

"Witmer's results are significant for two other reasons," said Jack Hayes, program director for the National Science Foundation, in a news release. "First, they expand our knowledge of soft tissue anatomy in birds, reptiles and mammals -- an area of research that has slowed in recent years. Second, they show how studies of modern animals may enable paleobiologists to infer the structure of soft tissues that don't fossilize well. If biologists can reconstruct the soft tissue anatomy of dinosaurs, they will be better able to understand how dinosaurs lived."

Other researchers said Witmer's discovery makes perfect sense and allows for new ways to study extinct species.

"We're learning to look at dinosaurs differently, not just their fossils," said Dr. Scott Sampson, a paleontologist at the University of Utah in a New York Times article on Aug. 3. "We're finding ways to look at living animals and extrapolate back in time. It allows us to rethink old ideas."

The "Dino Nose" project is funded by the National Science Foundation and Ohio University. The project also is looking at other aspects of dinosaurs, including the jaws and feeding apparatus, Witmer said.

"The major thrust of the lab is fleshing out dinosaurs using modern animals to help understand the biology of dinosaurs and help placing soft tissue. We plan to use modern animals to help reconstruct the detailed anatomy of extinct animals such as dinosaurs," he said.


Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

 

Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!